Counseling

Resources and discussion on Biblical Counseling topics.

One Tip for Handling Criticism With Grace

Criticism can be difficult because it can be easily interpreted as an indictment on your competence and worth.

Last week I wrote about one idea in Amy Baker’s book on perfectionism and now i want to share and expand on another of her thoughts. Baker gives this tip for handling criticism: start with what God says about you, not what someone else says.

This reality can be a tough reminder because Psalm 14:2-3 says,

“The LORD looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.”

Now wait–why is this the verse offered and not something we might think is more uplifting? Here’s the point: God’s assessment of us is the most damning criticism we will ever receive, yet He has graciously made the way of forgiveness and freedom possible when we go to Him in forgiveness (see Amy Baker’s book, Picture Perfect, pg. 134).

Unlike some who just see our faults and condemn us, God sees who we really are and still sent His Son to pay the price for our sins (Romans 5:8). With that in mind, we can listen to criticism and not be completely crushed because we have hope since we will not stand in ultimate judgement before any earthly critic but before a loving God.

This is the message of Romans 14:10: “Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God”. Constructive criticism is possible and helpful, but I’m referring to destructive criticism in this post, which is what is in view in Romans 14:10. Some can’t seem to refrain from criticising for reasons that might be the topic of another post, but the focus here is on your response to criticism. The command to not pass judgment on your brother is rooted in the fact that we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. In other words, be more concerned about God’s judgment than man’s.

It is wise to listen for any truth in criticism and to repent of any sin if present. But let criticism stir you to a greater understanding of your worth by realizing that the One who truly knows you inside and out doesn’t hold that over you but chooses to forgive through Christ (Romans 8:1) and offer life to its fullest (John 10:10).

Photo by Justin Luebke on Unsplash

The Distortion of Perfectionism

I recently read Amy Baker’s book Picture Perfect: When Life Doesn’t Line Up and think you should too if you deal with perfectionism like she describes: “What I accomplished took on a life of its own, and I was in danger of seeing what I got done, rather than Jesus, as the source of my perfection” (pg.2).

She lists some trademark characteristics of perfectionism:

  • you want to be the best in everything you do;
  • you have very high expectations for yourself and others;
  • you are very upset with yourself if you make a mistake;
  • you feel guilty for relaxing;
  • you feel like you are never doing enough;
  • you are very particular about the details of tasks;
  • when you perform well, you analyze your performance for the weak spots and quickly gloss over things done right;
  • you want something done right or not done at all;
  • you are perceived by others as a role model;
  • you feel others are never satisfied by your performance;
  • you compare yourself to others;
  • you do not attempt things you know you cannot complete with excellence;
  • you are frightened by the thought of failure;
  • you procrastinate;
  • your relationships are often strained or difficult;
  • you feel like you will never be perfect; and
  • you rarely experience joy (ppg.8-9).

This list is exhausting! Just reading through these tendencies made me feel overwhelmed and I can see how a perfectionist will often feel paralyzed in any kind of fruitful work. I agree with Baker that there are positive and negative traits in this list. The struggle seems to come when a person easily crosses that line of not properly having her eyes on Jesus as the perfecter of her faith but relies on herself to bring about perfection—a never-ending quest!

When life doesn’t go just the way a perfectionist plans, then frustration, anger, and unhappiness can set in. Baker hits a high note when she reveals that perfectionism is distorted because a person would not quickly become angry or frustrated in situation because these are not “perfect” responses (12). The tension lies in the fact that God created people to reflect His image, but sin has created tension in this pursuit of reflecting the image of a perfect God. Not only that, but sin has led to a man-centered definition of perfectionism that focuses on performances and outcomes that glorify man and not God.

Do you struggle with perfectionism? Stop looking to yourself as God and trust in the only One who can give you righteousness that is worthy to stand before the Lord.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1–2, ESV)

Photo by Blake Richard Verdoorn on Unsplash

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